As death toll in the southern Indian state of Kerala continued to rise along with flood water levels, Prime Minister Narendra Modi (pictured – Credit: Twitter/@narendramodi) on Saturday conducted an aerial survey of some of the affected areas in Aluva and Thrissur and returned to Delhi after holding a meeting with top state officials and announcing an additional emergency aid of Rs 5,000 million ($71 million).
A few days earlier, the federal government had granted $14 million and another $22 million as interim relief to the flood-hit state.
The state government informed Modi that the total flood losses have touched $2,865 million and it needs an emergency aid of $286 million.
Last evening, federal minister KJ Alphons, who hails from Kerala, gave an impression to media that money was not an issue for the federal government and whatever assistance the state sought would be readily granted. He, along with State Governor P Sathasivam and Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, accompanied Modi during the aerial survey.
Modi also announced $2,865 as ex gratia to families of each of the dead and $716 to those injured from the Prime Minister’s National Relief Fund.
Those who have lost their homes in floods will get help under the federal housing initiative called Pradhan Mantri (Prime Minister) Awas Yojana. The National Highway Authority has been instructed to take up repair works of roads damaged by floods, Modi said.
He congratulated the state chief minister and various agencies in tackling floods and saving the lives of tens of thousands by quickly moving them to relief camps before the raging waters could overwhelm them.
Soon after Modi announced the additional emergency aid, some of the states governed by his Bharatiya Janata Party announced assistance to Kerala. Among them were Maharashtra ($2.87 million), Uttar Pradesh ($2.15 million), and Gujarat ($1.43 million).
On Friday evening, the state government put the flood toll at 164 since August 8 and 324 since May 29. Hundreds of people are still missing and the enormity of the tragedy may be known only after the flood waters recede.
Met warned of heavy rains in 11 districts on Saturday and declared red alert. Yellow alert was announced in Kollam and Kasargod.
Rains continued to lash Southern and Central Kerala overnight and the situation is extremely grave in Chengannur, Pandalam, Haripad and Aranmula. The low-lying Kuttanad, the rice bowl of Kerala with its vast stretches of paddy fields, is sinking and most people from the area are being ferried to Alapuzha in big boats used by fishermen.
The government has temporarily seized most boats for rescue operations. Smaller boats are being transported atop auto-rickshaws from place to place where people remain marooned. Some boatmen are complaining they cannot manoeuvre through narrow lanes, streams or canals where water flow is too strong. Choppers alone can save people there, they say.
A 50-member naval team has started rescue operation in Chengannur from early Saturday and military helicopters are on their way to airlift residents trapped in their homes without food, drinking water and electricity for two to three days. The military response came after a local lawmaker broke down on live TV and warned that thousands may soon die if choppers do not arrive to airlift them.
More military aircraft arrived at Thiruvananthapuram airport early on Saturday carrying fast moving boats and other rescue equipment. The district collector and senior officials briefed military personnel about the priority areas where help is urgently needed.
In Aluva, water has started receding but people still remained trapped in their homes. Video footage showed a military boat moving through flooded residential areas. The team leader keeps blowing a whistle constantly to alert people in a high rise building about their presence and to make them come to the balcony to initiate rescue efforts. One man responds and he is saved.
In Malappuram too, water level has started falling. Video footage showed people living near a Hindu temple cleaning up their compound walls and homes after the flood. It is not raining and they feel the fine weather will continue.
Kerala Opposition leader and state Congress party chief Ramesh Chennithala tried to fish in troubled waters by attacking the chief minister over the delay in requesting the federal government to let the military to completely take over rescue operations. Chennithala said Vijayan should shed his false sense of pride and act.
Congress President Rahul Gandhi requested Modi to declare Kerala floods a national calamity.
Briefing media on Modi’s aerial survey of flood-hit areas, Vijayan said this is not the time to argue over aid or other issues. The priority now is savings lives and the prime minister assured him that more military personnel, helicopters, boats and other rescue equipment will arrive in Kerala to help thousands trapped in homes, near rivers and in hilly areas.
Modi’s aerial survey of flood situation in Southern and Central Kerala was cancelled due to bad weather, he added.